When I was a child, I used to lie on the sand beside Lake Superior, and imagine the stars were my friends. Perhaps they were living people, once, having loved and faced difficulty, (that surely, as I knew more of difficulty than of that ephemeris called love at that time in my young life), and that when they had died, their souls flew up to the sky and there they lodged, twinkling, forever looking down upon the busy world below. Sometimes the Northern Lights would shimmer and undulate among my star people, in what seemed to me to be a complex and beautiful dance. I longed to be among them in such beauty. I felt leaden, heavy and yet, not without purpose. I had an imagination, honed by much time spent alone with books, and whenever I felt lonely, I had worlds between covers I could leap into anytime I wanted, and journey to whatever time or place I wished.
I loved the stars, as I still do, because the stars did not change, unlike my life, which forever seemed to twist and turn as if on some gyre. I could depend upon the constellations' unchanging places in the sky, night after night, even if the clouds sometimes covered them up. They were still there , even if I could not see them. People I could not depend upon. People changed, sometimes on a dime; one day they were there, the next day they were not, for thousands of reasons I often could not fathom, and I grew to believe after a time, that somehow I was the cause of these sudden changes and disappearances and I grew to distrust myself around them, keeping to a distance. The stars, however, were constant, something that fed my imagination and because I knew that sailors used them to navigate by, I came to see them as some kind of compass, by which I could find true north.
True north is a different place in everyone's life, and some people never find it. True north is a changeable thing as we think we know it in different phases of our lives, but as we grow and change, our real true north is unveiled slowly, as we get rid of the layers of who we are not and are transformed by events in our lives, and circumstances. Everything happens for a reason to nudge us into our authentic true north and I am convinced because I have seen many things, that we are not alone in our meanderings through life. Something Greater is our guide, whether we call it magic, kismet, serendipity, coincidence, or God. I believe when we die, we don't die; for we are made of love and cannot love cross lifetimes?
And so it was I met this man when I was young, not under the stars but in the daylight when the stars are hidden. He was the first time I felt my true north in some small way, felt the needle flutter, tilting homewards.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167
And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
The day he died spring was unfolding gently on the face of the earth; leaves unfolding from the trees in the kind of new green that erases all thought of the deadness of winter. It seemed a contradiction of the life springing all around her that he should be dead, he so full of life, life that left him in the night while the world slept, left quietly, with no trace that he had ever walked in the green grass under the leaves of the trees in springtime. There, then gone. A blink. She reeled. The world seemed topsy-turvy --all at once vertigo hit her and screams erupted from her that seemed to come from hell and tear apart eternity.
It could have been that he stood next to her, that screams of grief can indeed rip the fabric of all we know, to filter into what lies parallel, to lie at the feet of those we cannot see.
Days later, she was travelling north, to the place she had not been since she was very young, car packed to the gills with the meager possessions she held dear. She had left her husband behind, suddenly seeing past the veneer of the life she had gone on to. None of it was real; she had been playing the part orchestrated for her by expectation. She had not loved the one she married; in the face of death, she suddenly saw what had been real and what had not. This grief was the only real thing in her life now; travelling up Highway 53, inexorably drawn north, to her lake, to the cries of gulls wheeling and dipping atop white capped waves.
Having left all she had behind, all that existed is what lay before; to start again, or not, the way before was as tangled as her hair blown by the wind, and she did not know what to unravel first. She drove on, the mile markers whizzing past counting down the miles until she would have to face herself and death, finality, nothingness.
She did not love the one she married, she who prided herself on verity, on living true, on never being deceiving, to find she had been playing a part cut deeply, and guilt oozed from every pore. What kind of person was she, she wondered to herself, to have lived with a man she did not love? Was she that lonely, that desperate, that faithless? That stupid? While distance to home closed, the distance in her heart widened to an unfathomable abyss.
She had gone on. She had accepted long ago that it would never be, she had flown round the world; running, really, from this thing that had sneaked up on her, and was too big to reach around, this love, she too young, he too old, the distance that was really no distance at all.
He sat next to her in the car looking out the window, feeling her pain and bewilderment, like knives. He reached across and touched the hand that lay in her lap, to let her know he was there.
She felt something on her hand, a sort of energy that felt like static electricity. The sensation made her jerk her hand back up to the steering wheel, and it also made her think of him. There was no way, of course, no way. He was just…gone. That was all. When you’re dead, you’re dead, she thought, you disappear. A tear slipped down her cheek.
Remembering Rilke, and feeling the keenness of her doubt, feeling invisible, he recited softly, How shall I hold on to my soul, so that it does not touch yours?
Still driving, the cab dimly lit by the green dash light, she found herself reciting aloud the final line How shall I lift it gently up over you on to other things? She realized that perhaps, even, with this death, that she had stopped believing in God. Perhaps now, she believed in nothing. There was only emptiness, and the sky above contained no God, only stars, and atmosphere, and more empty space beyond. What was there, she mused, to have faith in, exactly?
Then, seeing the lights on the hill ahead of her, she resolved to find out what “moving on” would come to mean. Lifting my soul gently up over you on to other things. She didn’t know why that line had gone through her head. She thought about what it meant. Forgetting, she supposed. Forgetting, wound healing, scabbing over, another layer of stone, a hardening. And that was the very thing she did not want most in all of the world. She did not want to forget . Forgetting would mean he meant nothing to her at all if she could forget him in the healing. No, she would not heal if forgetting would be the result. Her mind went back to the unanswerable question: what happens when you die?” Becoming angry at the question she opened the window, turned up the rock music on the radio, and forced herself back to reality. He was gone, that was all.
Sighing, sensing the wall between them, he wished to leave the car, and suddenly he was not there, but sitting along the shores of the great inland sea, wondering if he would ever be able to move on without her.
"There's a veil between worlds, you see," Tacy's grandmother, who was from Ireland, explained patiently. Outside the window of the lighthouse keeper's house, the darkness was dotted with thousands upon thousands of stars. The kerosene lamp burned softly, casting a yellow glow around the stone house's walls. The fire in the fireplace burned steadily, the cast iron kettle full of soup bubbling, filling the house with good smells. The cat, Tash, curled up on the fleece on the floor, sleeping peacefully, his nose behind his tail and his paws covering his eyes. "See, the dead, they visit us, they love us and they don' want to leave us as much as we don' want them to leave, so your mama is still there child, an' you can talk to her sometimes if ye want to. " Tacy had discovered her mother's trunk earlier in the day, and it was full of things she'd never seen before. Her mother had died long ago, when Tacy was only a year old, of consumption. Her father once said it was the prettiest way to die; while her mother wasted away, her face gave off a pink flush, her skin like porcelain. Her father didn't like to talk about her mother, and most of the time, he didn't like talking to Tacy or even acknowledging her except to bark out a gruff order or to tell her to check on the light. Tacy's gran said it was because she looked so much like her mama. Tacy had given up trying to be close to her dad and mostly avoided him except at meals when they all sat silent around the driftwood table speaking only to ask to pass a bowl of this or the salt. Tacy loved her gran and her gran and she could often be found in a corner by the fire, like tonight, where Gran told her stories and talked about her life in Ireland before setting off, a woman alone, across the great, wide sea with only her five year old father to keep her company. Gran was jolly, her eyes full of mischief, her head full of stories, and she was the only source of love Tacy had ever known.